Music and Vision homepage


Listening well

BASIL RAMSEY invites you to discover that Samuel Barber wrote more than one work

CD Review

I do not find the oft-mentioned stylistic boundaries of Samuel Barber's music relevant to anything alarming. His ease and skilful flights in clouds of lyricism produce the colourful and intrinsically musical effects he sought. His opus 1 of 1929, a three-movement Serenade for Strings, started life scored for quartet. As lightweight music goes, this is tuneful, resourceful in language, and a mere nine minutes over three movements. What a shame that is not included in the standard group of serenades led by Elgar and Dag Wiren heard regularly in Europe.

Another of Barber's earlyish pieces, not previously recorded and originally written for a radio programme, is Horizon, seeming to conjure shimmering heat and stillness on the horizon, although there's no authority for my suggestion. It shows another facet of Barber, and his fanciful way of expression in music.

The Capricorn Concerto is bravura writing in a Brandenburg concerto format. Flute, oboe, and trumpet take the concertante role and ride the orchestra brilliantly. Another shadow can be seen intermittently, but Bach and Stravinsky make good partners, and would be the first, I'm sure, to clap this irresistable creation.

From a different world comes Knoxville: Summer of 1915, a setting of words by James Agee that met a need in Barber's family life in 1947. Ruth Golden brings a good dramatic voice to this deeply-felt music. Something genuine as opposed to mere construction touches us, and we know.

Material from Horizon provides the motivation for Summer Music, a single movement for woodwind quintet, which keeps a gentle breeze in play with suitable touches of calm and tranquillity.

The inevitable Adagio concludes the programme, and any feeling we have of déjà-vu is entirely due to musical publicists who invariably act like carrion crows when something delectable is discovered. As long as we pay suitable respect to the composer who wrote such a finely-drawn piece of elegiac music, probably by listening well to his other music.

Copyright © Basil Ramsey, July 18th 1999




San Diego Chamber Orchestra / Donald Barra
with Ruth Golden, soprano and the Arioso Wind Quintet

Producer, Michael Fine; Engineer Larry Rock

Koch International 3-7206-2H1         DDD        67'13


 << Music & Vision homepage              More CD reviews >>